WILLIAMSTON, S.C. – Vintage Land Rovers that looked so good they fooled the federal government into seizing them are being returned to their owners this week after a legal nightmare that began nearly a year ago.
Dozens of the iconic Defender models were seized by the Department of Homeland Security after U.S. buyers purchased them from abroad and had them shipped here. Vehicles that do not comply with safety and emissions standards cannot be purchased from foreign sellers unless they are 25 years or older, and therefore exempt from the regulations. North Carolina lawyer and Land Rover enthusiast Will Hedrick, who has represented more than two dozen Defender owners free of charge, believes investigators mistook the vehicles for newer models.
“I had seven law enforcement officers block my driveway and take my Land Rover, with bulletproof vests and guns in holsters.”
“I had seven law enforcement officers block my driveway and take my Land Rover, with bulletproof vests and guns in holsters,” recalled Jennifer Brinkley, who paid $60,000 for her classic Land Rover Defender. The North Carolina mother’s dream ride, inspired by memories of African safaris.
Seized under civil forfeiture laws, Brinkley's 1985 Land Rover languished at a Williamston impound lot until Thursday, when she went with attorney Christina Clodfelter, who worked with Hedrick, to retrieve it.
Hedrick said if he hadn't agreed to work pro bono, the government might never have been forced to admit its mistake. In civil forfeitures, he said, innocent property owners often decide to cut their losses.
“It just gets too expensive,” Hedrick said. “You’re going to spend more money trying to get your property back than what it’s worth. So, people just write it off.”
In the case of the seized Defenders, Hedrick believes investigators may have misread some of the Vehicle Identification Numbers (VINs) and mistaken them for newer models. He also said it’s easy to install new parts on old Defenders, making them appear newer than they are.
Federal authorities declined to comment on specific cases. However, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Raleigh, N.C., told Fox News in an email that 25 seized vehicles are being returned to owners around the country.
“People need to know that they do not have to take it — that they can contact an attorney,” Brinkley said. “They can get help. And they should never give up on their property.”